During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) patriotic stationery—illustrated letterheads and envelopes—was widely used, particularly for letters to and from the battlefront. These envelopes are known to collectors as “patriotic covers.” However, the first picture-backed government-issued postal cards were produced in Austria-Hungary, and the images depicted the Franco-Prussian War. Nearly three million of these cards sold in 1870.

The popularity of postcards began to decline during World War I. At the time, many American companies had designed their own postcards, but they had been shipped to Germany or Austria for high-quality and low-cost printing. Even English publishers, like Raphael Tuck and Sons, had their cards printed in Germany or Austria. Thus the Great War, beginning in 1914, disrupted the production of cards. Plus, the somber mood created by the conflict made postcards seem like disrespectful frivolities. In 1918, the postage rates for postcards doubled, and after the war, telephones became the preferred means for staying in touch.

Even so, U.S. manufacturers began to produce their own cards around 1915. These were much lower in quality, as lush lithography was replaced by half-tone process printing, and they generally had a white border. But the war was a compelling reason to send postcards across the Atlantic in both directions, as soldiers and their loved ones exchanged updates via post. Wartime postcards most often depicted military leaders, officers, and soldiers, as well as explosions and bombed-out buildings.

In Europe, the war was all-consuming, resulting in a plethora of propaganda postcards which solidified the divide between “us” and “them” on both sides. “Positive” proganda cards rallied both the Allies and Central Powers to fight “For King and Country.” On the other hand, “negative” propaganda cards were designed to ridicule and belittle enemies.

Central Powers postcards asserted the superiority of German people and technology and the inferiority of the Allies. In such comic cards, the Allies would be subjected to a demeaning type of punishment reserved for children or dogs. Even the German mythological figure Michel, who represents the laid-back and gentle side of the national character, was depicted as an aggressor. The Allies would often be portrayed as animals that did not deserve human respect.

Some of the most powerful anti-German propaganda postcard sets were produced by Italian postcard artist Tito Corbell, who made an important series of cards telling the story of nurse Edith Cavell, who was killed by German soldiers. Collectors, however, tend to favor Corbell’s more lighthearted work, like his images of glamorous women.

In England, the Bamforth publishing company, known for its mildly risqué “seaside” cards, produced many mocking and emasculating cards against the Germans. British historian G.M...

The most beautiful cards made during World War I are known as “silks.” French and Belgian refugee women would embroider designs on silk—usually incorporating British, French, and American flags—and ship them to factories to be trimmed and mounted onto postcard backs. These were tremendously popular with American and British soldiers stationed in France; it’s estimated that more than 10 million were produced before they died out in 1923.

Some of these postcards had flaps so that a tiny printed greeting card could be slipped between the silk and backboard. Generally they lack postage stamps because they were sent in Military Mail pouches at no charge to the soldier.

Silks were different from “linens,” a new kind of postcard that emerged post-World War I, made from an uncoated card stock that had a fabric-like texture and tended to feature garish colors. During World War II, as in the first world war, servicemen could send postcards home for free. Postcards became an important and easy means for soldiers to connect with their families, wives, and girlfriends back home, a quick way to let them know, “I’m still alive and thinking about you.”

Naturally, postcards were used for propaganda during World War II. Many of these propaganda postcards were relatively innocuous, sent within the U.S. and to and from soldiers, cheerleading the war effort. Evidence also suggests, though, that “black” propaganda postcards were used by the U.S. as a part of psychological warfare.

The Office of Strategic Services put out postcards that appeared to be German in origin, using real German postcard images and German wording that opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party, intended to suggest there was a strong anti-Fascist underground movement. Documentation indicates these cards were printed at a press taken over by the Morale Operation department of the OSS. As these cards were likely destroyed by the Nazis, they are extremely rare; only a few examples are known to exist today.

But for loved ones back home in America, the most popular kinds of cards to send to the boys overseas are what are known as “arcade postcards” or “girlie cards.” Based on the pin-ups of Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, George Petty, Alberto Vargas, and others, these images of sexy ladies were meant to cheer up and provide a well-earned diversion to war-weary soldiers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]



This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

At-4 Rocket LauncherRare Ww1 Photo Postcard Rppc Rms Aquitania Dazzle Paint Halifax Wr MacaskillRppc Mexican Border War Francisco Villa Killed Car Real Photo PostcardLot Of 4 Wwi Embroidered Silk Antique Postcards British Regimental Royal Army #1German Wwi Trench Emplacement Aidmen Helmet M16 Snapshot Photo Mailed 1918Rp Red Cross Nurse Uniform Burton On Trent Wwi Military Hospital Asylum ? C1918Rppc, Ava, Mo - Civil War Veteran's, Burris & ComradeAef 2nd Division 9th Infantry Co. H World War I Military Real Photo Postcard4 Ww1 Antique English Royal Flags Crown Egypt Embroidered Silk Postcards #3Aef 2nd Division Engineers Soldier World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 1st Division 28th Circus Parade Guns World War I Military Photo PostcardAef 89th Division Lanz Truck World War I Military Real Photo Postcard 1919Advance Australia Unusual Ww1 Period Woven Silk Folding Greetings Card By Tuck Art Xavier Sager Bomb Lady Wwi Ww1 War Original C1910s Postcard ZeppelinArt Xavier Sager Bomb Lady Wwi Ww1 War Original Old 1910s Postcard AirplaneWw1 Military Comic Postcard By Fred Spurgin: Lucky Charms, Black Cat & Swastika Aef 41st Division Soldier Iowa World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 76th Division Chaplin Burial Usa World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 90th Division General Mcalexander World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 2nd Division Soldier Overseas War I Military Real Photo PostcardGerman Wwi Soldiers With Anti-aircraft Searchlight & Binos Photo Dated 1918Wwii Italian Military Il Nemico Vi Ascolta Tacete! PostcardWwii Military Postcard Comic Postcard Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito Ac-34 UnusedAef 2nd Div Sanitary Train Motorcycle World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 2nd Division Sanitary Train World War I Military Real Photo PostcardArt Xavier Sager Bomb Lady Wwi Ww1 War Original Old 1910s Postcard Eiffel TowerAef 5th Division Band Cemetery World War I Military Real Photo Postcard1937 Wwii Nazi Germany Sa Championship Berlin Olympic Statium PostcardAef 34th Division Patch Soldier World War I Military Real Photo Postcard **Aef 2nd Division Soldiers 3 Stripes World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 2nd Division Patches Two Soldiers World War I Military Real Photo PostcardGerman Wwi Hand-drawn Soldier Art Kaiser Wilhelm Ii Caricature Pcd Mailed 1902Dog Eagle Germany Usa Wwi Military Propaganda Artist Signed Wall Postcard 1919Aef 82nd Division Machine Gun Patch World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 82nd Division Soldiers Usa World War I Military Real Photo Postcard508) Pc Of Romanov- Russia Empress Marie Feodoravna - Hms Marlborough 1919 YaltaThe Shanghai Incident 7 Photos In Packet, War Japan/china,unposted,c.1915-1930Russia. (2) Postcard . Regiment " Ismailovskiy. " 1900s. РRussia. (4) Postcard. Grenadier A Horse Guards . " 1900s. РArt Xavier Sager Bomb Lady Wwi Ww1 War Original Old 1910s Postcard ZeppelinGerman Krieg FlagAef 33rd Division Soldier Luxembourg World War I Military Real Photo PostcardPostcards Usa Airship Zeppelin Zr-3 Los Angeles At Friedrichshafen Germany 1924Aef 2nd Division 9th Infantry Soldier World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 90th Division Truck Insignia World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 32nd Division Soldier Truck World War I Military Real Photo Postcard Wwii Nazi Germany Map Hitler In Center One People, Nation, Leader 1938 PostcardGerman Wwi Soldier Tropical Kit Toppee Gas Mask Box Rifle Rare Vintage PhotoGerman Wwii Xmas Russia 1942 Vintage Greetings Card1918 "ww1" U.s. Army "spruce Division" Loggers "portland, Or." P/cAef 82nd Division Soldiers France World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef First Army Engineer Patch World War I Military Soldier Real Photo Postcard *Aef 1st Division James Gresham Cemetery World War I Military Real Photo PostcardWw1 Military Comic Postcard By Donald Mcgill: Food Prices, Flapper & AberystwythWwi Antique Lot Of 4 Embroidered Silk Postcards Military Italy French British #4Freeport,il. - Post Office - Men Leaving For World War I - 1917 - Rppc1920 Uss Nevada Rppc * Cage Mast Battleship Real Photo * Beached Pearl HarborAef 78th Division Soldier Usa World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 89th Division 355th Infantry Usa World War I Military Real Photo PostcardAef 5th Division 60th Infantry Soldier World War I Military Real Photo Postcard